On the street harassment and the like

When I committed myself to participating in Blank Noise’s blogathon, I really wasn’t sure what to say. I avoid overly personal posts on this blog; I don’t feel comfortable sharing that much in a public space. If you want a personal, eloquent post, Annie’s achieved it better than I could ever hope to here.The best I can do at the moment is a few random, unconnected thoughts on the subject.


I’ve always found the maa-behen argument against eve teasing rather insulting to both men and women. It’s effective, yes. But to me all it really indicates is that the only reason a man should not harass me is not that I am a person who deserves to be treated with respect, but because the thought of someone treating my harasser’s sister in the same way grosses him out. It’s all about the harasser and women are reduced to somebody else’s mothers and somebody else’s sisters, rather than real people, worthy of respect in their own right. It depresses me that this is the best we can hope for, this is the only argument that seems to work.


There’s a difference between a stare and a leer. Being stared at is a sort of compliment. Everyone wants to look good, and it’s gratifying to be noticed sometimes. A leer is not a look of admiration. It’s the establishment of a power equation (an equation which is concretised in actual, physical rape.). It does not say “I’m attracted to you”, its aim is to make the subject uncomfortable. It says “I’m going to look at you whether you like it or not, because I can. I know you’re uncomfortable, and you can’t do anything about it.” The problem is, both the stare and the leer come under the heading of “just looking”, which sounds completely harmless. You can’t legislate against just looking, people are free to look at whoever they like, and certainly their thoughts and motives cannot be regulated. But every woman who has experienced both types of looking knows the difference, and knows equally well that there is no way to explain that difference to someone who doesn’t face it every day.(I hate the argument that says “you’ve never been through XYZ so you can’t possibly understand” because it has such potential for misuse, but honestly what else can one say in a debate like this one?) And I hate the arguments that talk about how evil feminists want to be privileged, want to control men’s thoughts, want to be allowed more space than men are allowed, simply because they are women, want to ‘portray’ themselves as the weaker sex. I’m an (evil) feminist, and what I want is to be able to step out of my house without being constantly reminded of that power equation. And since no amount of legislation can do this for me, I’m left helpless.


It’s one of the clichés of Bollywood movie songs. The pretty girl walks down the street or onto the college campus, or any public space really. The hero sees and likes and bursts into song. The pretty girl is visibly embarrassed and tries to escape, but the hero mysteriously pops up everywhere. The viewer is (allowing for differences in character) either feeling sorry for the girl or cheering the hero on. But at the end of the song we learn there’s no need to feel sorry for her – she comes around, she’s flattered and pleased, this is what she wanted all along.

And I wonder how many of the men who burst into song on the roads really expect to get the girl, whether they believe that strange fantasy can actually come true for them. I can laugh off the singing because I can tell myself it’s harmless, or at least well intentioned.


I’m not supposed to travel alone at night. My dad’s paranoid, and so am I, I feel threatened when I travel alone. This means that I can either not go out or ask a male friend to drop me home. Not going out implies an acceptance of the situation (I am a woman and I cannot go out without men, I am to willingly accept that women should stay at home.) But I hate being dependent on my friends. Most of the time I’m with them I’m one of them, we watch sports, listen to music, do various other gender-neutral friend things. When it’s time to go home, we are suddenly reminded that they are boys and can go home alone and that I am a girl and need them. I need *special* treatment.

At the Jazz Utsav in November someone I knew in school (but not very well) had to take a massive detour on his way home just to drop me off safely. A close friend had to waste his time making sure I got home alive. Such things are at best hugely embarrassing, and terribly demoralising. I know my friends will keep me safe. I hate that they have to. Sometimes I'd kill to be one of the guys.

Action Hero Aishwarya